14 common money scams to avoid
Students are generally a savvy bunch, particularly when it comes to the online world. But that doesn't make you invincible to scams, so listen up!
While most people know not to respond to emails from foreign princes who claim to offer good fortune in exchange for your bank details, scammers have definitely upped their game in recent years. As such, sniffing them out is now tougher than ever.
Both online and offline, fraudsters are getting increasingly sophisticated at stealing your hard earned dosh – so it's crucial to keep your wits about you at all times.
To give you a helping hand, we've highlighted some of the most common money scams to look out for, as well as how to avoid them...
Student money scams
If you've ever wondered what this term means (when it's not on a tub of Ben & Jerry's, that is), 'phishing' is what digital thieves do when they're trying 'phish' for your card details online.
You'll receive an email, disguised as being sent from a trusted payment source, which tries to convince you to share personal details in whatever way it can.
Often it will come with an invented back-story that claims you've been hacked and asks you to follow a link to save yourself from impending doom.
We regularly hear about phishing scams targeting students, including a recent one which pretending to be HMRC offering a tax refund, so it's worth being prepared!
The bottom line is that HMRC, SLC, banks, Paypal, eBay... they'll never ask you to reveal personal details over email, so if you're asked to do it, don't.
Common ways to spot a cunning trap include emails with links starting "http://" instead of "https://" (the indicator of a secure site) or slight alterations to well-known addresses, such as "www.hot-mail.com".
You should also pay close attention to the sender's address, as an odd looking email can often be a tell-tale sign. That said, as one scam involving the Student Loans Company showed, sometimes a fake email can look real!
If in doubt, report it.
The name might be even more ridiculous than 'phishing', but this is no laughing matter.
The word 'smishing' is a mix between 'SMS' and 'phishing'. And as you can probably work out, it refers to phishing scams that take place over text. We've reported on them before, like the case of this student who lost £5,400 from a scam text.
Like phishing emails, smishing texts will usually claim to be from a bank or popular company whose services you may have used. They'll usually supply a link and ask you to click it, at which point you'll be prompted to enter your payment details.
Just as real banks and other companies will never ask you for personal details via email, they won't request them by text either.
If you receive a message asking to you disclose any sensitive information, do not respond. Instead, visit the company's official website and contact them directly. This way you can clarify the situation with them, and if it is a scam, they can hopefully look into taking it down.
Wondering what a smishing text looks like? Radio personality Dave Vitty tweeted one that he received from "Apple", proving that even someone with a blue tick and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers can be a target.
This might sound like a rare situation to get yourself into, but money muling scams are a lot more common than you think – and unfortunately, young unsuspecting students are the perfect target.
In fact, according to Cifas (the UK's fraud prevention service), in 2017 there was a 105% increase in cases of people aged 21 or under becoming victims of money muling.
Victims will be approached by someone (perhaps someone in a bar, a neighbour or even someone you know relatively well) and they'll tell you that for some reason or other, they're unable to pay cash into their own account.
Perhaps they're working cash in hand so can't be seen to be pay too much hard cash into their account in case they get chased for tax. They ask you to pay the cash into your own account and transfer it to them digitally, and they'll give you a 10% cut for your trouble. Simple, right?
Wrong. Never offer to do this for someone! For a start, money laundering is illegal and if you get caught, it won't be pretty.
Secondly, you have no idea where this money could be coming from. If it's linked to drugs or some other crime and your account is linked to the case, the police will probably come looking for you. Don't take the risk!
Fake websites and products
With it now being so much easier and more common to buy from sites abroad, it can also be harder to suss out which are genuine and which are just out to get some of your green.
It's scarily common for websites to advertise products that are completely different to what they actually sell (which is a crime in itself), or even not really exist at all, and just be there to take your details and run with them.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between copycats and the real deal, but it's a good idea to check out reviews of the store online which can point you to any negative experiences from other shoppers.
There are very few things in the world more heartbreaking than getting scammed on gig tickets, so make sure you don't get taken for a ride!
As a general rule, don't buy tickets from a tout on the street. You could end up with fake tickets or being totally ripped off on the price.
Remember that these sites are just a platform for others to sell and buy tickets on – they're not liable if you receive a fake ticket (or even none at all).
If you do buy from a smaller retailer, check out the site first and pay with a credit card if at all possible. That way you can cancel the payment if the tickets don't show.
This is a common trick that most people have become savvy to, but we still hear about people being ripped off by bogus comps – especially since some people make a living from entering competitions online!
Fake Facebook competitions are extremely popular these days, and sometimes it's hard to know if it's the real deal or not. When you see thousands of people engaging in a competition on what looks like the official British Airways Facebook page, it seems pretty legit. But how can you tell if it isn't?
Some of the tell-tale signs of a fake account include: a full stop at the end of the page name (e.g. "British Airways Official."), no info on the 'about' section of the page, no T&Cs involved with the competition, and the company's official website leading you to a different Facebook page.
Sadly, prize scams don't just happen online – they can also take place over the phone and by post. You'll be told you've won something fabulously awesome, and all you need to do is cough up a small deposit to snag your gift.
Crucially, if you don't remember entering a competition, you probably didn't, which means you certainly can't have won it.
No legitimate competition will ever ask you stump up cash to get your prize anyway, so steer well clear.
Dodgy cash machines
Cash machine tampering has always been popular, but it's getting harder to spot.
From cameras that film you entering your PIN, to card slots that scan and record your card details – make sure you're always on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.
If the machine has scratches, masking tape or any sort of indication that someone's been messing around with it, don't take the risk.
You should also be wary of anyone trying to speak to you whilst you're withdrawing cash. The moment you've become distracted, you've become the perfect target to have your cash nabbed on the spot – and sometimes without you even realising. It might sound a bit extreme, but it does happen.
It's not just cash machines where scammers will look to cause a distraction while they go about fleecing you.
Pretty much any tourist hotspot, both here and abroad, will usually have some scammers targeting unsuspecting members of the public who aren't familiar with their surroundings.
Their choice of distraction technique will vary, but some of the more common ones include: buskers with a large crowd around them, dramatically bumping into you, staged fights between accomplices, and having a child go and talk to you.
Whatever ruse they go for, it serves to divert your attention to something other than your personal belongings.
They'll use this as their chance to steal something from your pocket or bag, and in the case of the conversational child, it may even be the kid who grabs something while their parent is apologising.
Avoiding a scam like this can be tricky, as it essentially forces you to pay attention to just one thing. If you're heading to a tourist attraction, just make sure that all of your valuables are safe, secured, and with you at all times.
The gold ring scam
This is, yet again, a scam that's usually found in popular tourist destinations. In fact, it's most famously carried out in Paris, but there's no reason not to be on the lookout everywhere else, too.
The premise is simple: the scammer will drop a fake gold ring, and when you're approaching it, they'll pick it up. They'll then make a point of saying just how lucky they are to have found a 'gold' ring on the street.
However, they'll then decide that they have no use for the ring and offer to sell it to you for just a few quid. Suddenly, you're in a situation where you think you can buy a gold ring for a bargain price, and it's easy to see how some people get drawn in.
There are a few variations on this trick, including 'the friendship bracelet scam' whereby a child will approach you and put a bracelet on your wrist. They'll then demand that you pay for the bracelet, knowing that many people will feel too awkward to refuse.
Unfortunately there's no silver bullet for avoiding this scam – the best you can do is be wary of strangers approaching you, and refuse to pay (or say you have no money on you) if you've not managed to dodge them.
Ok, so this one's not technically a scam. But some store cards can involve some dodgy tactics that are definitely worth watching out for.
Reports have shown that shop assistants often encourage customers to lie about their earnings to help them meet their commission targets.
This means you'll be given a bigger credit limit (because the store thinks you earn more than you actually do), which massively increases the chance of you piling up mountains of debt that you'll be unable to pay off.
We wouldn't really advise getting any type of store card at all, so don't be pressured into it. If you don't have the budget to spend at that moment of time, just don't spend!
If needs must, it's a better idea to look into a 0% credit card instead – but make sure to check out our guide to using credit cards first!
Job advert scams
Scammers prey on the desperate, and a penniless student looking for a job is their prime target. In fact, as many as 1 in 3 online job scams target students and fresh grads!
Fraudsters will try to lure you in with catchy phrases such as "no experience necessary" or offers of full time pay for part time work. The fact is: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Be wary of any job that asks you to ring a premium rate number (0845, 0844, 0870, 0871 etc.) or anyone who wants you to make some kind of payment upfront.
Other things to be suspicious of include companies without a physical location, or a kebab shop popping up when you check out their address on Google Street View.
If you think you might have been victim of a job scam, report it to Action Fraud.
Being cautious of accommodation scams should be a top priority for students, as young people are unfortunately a prime target. Fraudsters know how tough it can be to find affordable housing as a student, which is what makes this such a profitable scam!
Bogus landlords may have their own website or advertise on sites like Gumtree or Facebook, but you could fall into something dodgy just by answering an ad on a local noticeboard.
Alarm bells should be ringing if they try to convince you to make an upfront deposit either to hold a property or prove financial capability.
It's true that early deposits are sometimes essential for students hoping to secure an apartment over the summer, but doing this through an agency will ensure you'll actually have a house (and a landlord!) when you arrive in September.
Going through your SU or university accommodation services can also help, as they will ensure you only contact legitimate landlords.
If you're an international student and need to make a payment in advance, never make a transfer using services such as Western Union, and always ask for a UK address, postcode and phone number for the company (and look them up!).
We all detest people coming and knocking on our door and disturbing our Game of Thrones marathon – whether they're looking for cash, or even just a signature.
But the thing to remember is that scammers who go for the door-knocking method are counting on the fact you'll feel a bit awkward, or so desperate to get rid of them that you'll donate a few quid or sign your name up so they'll leave you in peace.
However, once they have your name, and maybe your phone number and address too, they can use these details frivolously.
Obviously, there are lots of well-intentioned door canvassers out there, too. Just make sure you look for official ID and branded clothing before you make any decisions, and certainly before you let them into your home.
Everyone loves a bargain, particularly a freebie! But take care when signing up for free trials offered online, as often you'll be committing yourself to a payment at a later date that you can't get out of.
You'll often have to provide payment details in order to access the free trial, and this can result in them taking cash from your account as soon as the trial is up – so make sure you always read the fine print before signing up!
In fact, even the legit sites can be a bit sneaky with the way their free trials work. We've heard plenty of stories of students who hadn't realised that their free trial of Amazon Prime was up and that they were now paying for it.
It's fair to say that these sites probably don't do as much as they could to remind you that you'll be paying once your free trial expires, so when you sign up, add a reminder on your phone to guarantee you don't get caught out!
Hopefully you're now clued up on some of the most common money scams to watch out for.
Have you been victim of a money scam? Get in touch – we want to hear about it.